Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thinking about Partnership

Last week also, the day 'God on Mondays' restarted, while all the crisis of Cardiff Initiative's demise was being played out, I was due for a meeting with the City's Chief Executive, Byron Davies and several of his colleagues, to discuss issues about religious comunities' participation in planning consultations. On the day he stood me up, as he had another engagement with Welsh Assembly officers, but as I was aware of all those other things going on about which little was being publicly said, I wasn't miffed. In fact, I had a very worthwhile meeting with one of the County’s senior cabinet officers, Emyr Evans who takes the lead in matters of community planning and he would have been there anyway.
After several years of nagging from me, city officials are privately admitting there are flaws in the engagement of religious communities in city development planning, shaping our social future, and this is now being acknowledged as a weakness. We pored over detailed survey reports on community facilities together, and could see that although religious communities were indeed providing services to their localities, there was no specific data on all the city’s hundreds of churches and prayer halls, and no way of assessing the scale of their social contribution, except for big educational stakeholders like the Church in Wales and the Roman Catholic Church.
If there’s no social mapping that recognises the contribution of religious communities, nobody thinks to include them, or to consider what they offer and ask how this could be made better use of, how working together on social projects could be improved, all of which is easier when there is information to hand. I’m hoping that this will lead to some research whose fruit will be more positive engagement of religious communities by the City and County in its planning.
This meeting was intended also to address difficulties of local businesses in the neighbourhood of St John’s church, due to proposed new parking restrictions. It was only touched upon as part of a preview of proposals for new transportation infrastructure in the city centre zone, still being worked out, not yet fully tested against reality. Public meetings on this are supposed to happen in March, so it wasn't possible to go into those problems in any detail, except to point out that the process of consultation about changing regulations affecting many people's lives and work had become disjointed.
Almost a week after this meeting, a repeat traffic closure order notice went up on half a dozen lamp posts around St John's and the Hayes, repeating what was issued on Jan 11, giving objectors until March 2 to act. Neither I, nor anybody I’ve spoken to has had their objections to the traffic order acknowledged, so we don’t know if we have to object again on a monthly basis, to fend off the unacceptable closures, or whether this merely extends consultation time.
Perhaps the officers involved in this believe that every citizen should know the procedures of the Town and Country Planning Act by heart, as well as patrol the streets reading the small print of notices attached to lamp-posts to ensure that democracy is upheld. Or have they a right we don’t know about, to try and slip controversial impositons through while Mr Average is inattentive? Running a city and getting it right is a huge and complex task, and when you look at it closely it seems as if many components have a life of their own, and don't find communicating with other components, and harmonising actions something that comes naturally. It requires determined political leadership and vision to oblige and enthuse everyone to work together despite their differences. It also requires re-education to move people towards co-operation as a modus vivendi, rather than competition. And anything said here about a city can equally be applied to the church, within denominations and between them.

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